Does about 20,000 yearssomeone took a humble deer tooth, punched a hole in it and turned it into a precious necklace. This simple artifact thus became a Paleolithic jewel that for years adorned the neck of an anonymous hominid and, later, remained entombed for tens of thousands of years in the depths of a cave in the south of Siberia. Now, thanks to an excavation of this archaeological site, not only has this relic been recovered, but it has also been obtained reconstruct the history of its owner.

The finding, published this Wednesday in the journal ‘Nature’, has been possible thanks to a new method of «extraction of ancient dna» created by a team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany). According to its own creators, this method is based on a «antique appliance washing machine«and it consists, broadly speaking, of introducing these objects into hot water at more than 90 degrees Celsius, letting them soak and extracting genetic samples from the water. «This is how we get DNA samples without damaging the artifacts,» the experts comment.

The study has been possible thanks to a new method to obtain ancient DNA

Years ago, the scientists at Max Planck worked on this technique, but until now, They hadn’t had a chance to put it to the test.. The first time it was tested was with a set of remains from excavations carried out between the 1970s and 1990s in the French cave of Quinçay. But since at that time archaeologists handled these types of objects with their bare hands, the unique genetic profiles that can be detected were those of the researchers themselves. It was also tested with relics from the Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria, but no clues were obtained either.

A prehistoric jewelery

The golden opportunity to test this technique came when, in 2019, archaeologists Maxim Kozlikin and Michael Shunkov dedicated themselves to excavating a cave in southern Siberia. The study of this deposit was carried out in a totally sterile way. The scientists were armed with gloves and masks and, as soon as they recovered the famous necklace, they kept it in an airtight bag to avoid contamination. Four years later, the study of this jewel has made it possible to obtain «an extraordinary amount«human DNA»It is almost as if we have taken a sample directly from a human tooth.«, explains the researcher Elena Essel, one of the authors of this work.

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But what exactly do we know about the owner of this necklace? The study of the genetic material obtained from this jewel reveals, for example, that belonged to one person. That is to say, it was not shared by several members of a community nor was it one of those relics that are inherited. There are also indications that it was made and used by the same person from a tooth of a watipi deer (Cervus canadensis) from the Upper Paleolithic.

«It is surprising to have discovered something like this after 20,000 years»

As explained by the archaeologists who have led this work, the analysis of the mitochondrial DNA it also suggests that this necklace belonged to a woman who suffered between 19,000 and 25,000 years ago in the rugged Siberian mountains and that it belonged to the ancient Eurasian populations of the north. «The number of X chromosomes indicates that the pendant was made and worn by a woman«, the scientists comment. «It is surprising to have discovered something like this after 20,000 years,» the experts comment enthusiastically.